1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hannah More

T., in "On the Female Literature of the present Age" New Monthly Magazine 13 (March 1820) 274.



It would be unjust to decide on the merits of Mrs. Hannah More, chiefly from her poetry. In verse she seldom attains higher excellence than elegance of style and correctness of expression. Her tragedies are cold dialogues in stately blank verse, which exhibit occasional vigour of thought, but are not steeped either in fancy or in passion. The violence of her catastrophes forms a singular contrast to the declamatory expressions of sorrow, not deep but loud, by which they are preceded. It is on her moral and religious essays that she will build the most enduring part of her fame. She has great earnestness of expostulation, great purity of thought, and great felicity of language. Without any inane gaudiness of phraseology — with no seeming effort to write splendid things — she illustrates every subject with beautiful images. If she clothes truth, it is in the chastest attire. Her only fault as a moralist is her want of genial and expressive sympathy. She looks on humanity as from a distance, from a height of personal virtue, like a being of another sphere. It is not that she wants charity — for she pities all human weaknesses, and is anxious to relive all human distresses — but she does not grasp her fellows with a warm and cordial hand, or regard their errors with that spirit of allowance which those always feel who live tenderly along the lines of human sympathies. We are not in love with the heroine of Coelebs. Still we must not forget that Mrs. More has done much to soften the prejudices of bigotry among those who would scarcely have listened to her had she been less apart from the world. Those will read Coelebs, who turn from the divine Clarissa with pious horror. The admirers of Mrs. More can scarcely regard the drama as an accursed thing. Thus are bigots carried a little out of themselves and their sect, and made to feel that humanity is made of other stuff than systems or creeds.